Cheney Urges Iraqis to Reconcile Differences in Surprise Visit to Baghdad

Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Iraq remains a dangerous place, a point underscored by a thunderous explosion that rattled windows in the U.S. embassy where he spent most of the day.

After talks with Iraqi military and political officials, the vice president said Iraq's leaders seem to have a better sense now that they need to do more to reconcile sectarian and political differences.

"I think they recognize it's in their interests as well as ours to make progress on the political front," Cheney said.

Cheney spoke less than an hour after an explosion could be heard in the U.S. embassy where he spent most of the day. Windows rattled and reporters covering the vice president were briefly moved to a more secure area.

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride: "His meeting was not disturbed and he was not moved."

After meeting with Cheney, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged problems in the pace of reducing violence.

"The meeting with the vice president paved a foundation for practical steps to support our efforts working on both the security front as well as the domestic political issues," said al-Maliki.

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Al-Maliki is coming under increasing pressure from Washington to demonstrate progress in easing sectarian violence, and Cheney's unannounced visit to Iraq was depicted by U.S. officials as an attempt to press al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders to do more to achieve reconciliation among factions.

"We talked about a way ahead in terms of our mutual interests," Cheney said.

Earlier, Cheney got a firsthand briefing on conditions in Iraq and the effectiveness of the U.S. military buildup from the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

"There's a lot going on. This is a very important time. There's a lot to talk about," Cheney said as he met with Gen. David Petraeus and the new U.S. ambassador here, Ryan Crocker.

Petraeus said recently that conditions in Iraq may get harder before they get easier and will require "an enormous commitment" over time by the United States.

Cheney made Iraq the first stop on a weeklong tour of the Middle East that will also include stops in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. The Baghdad stop had not been announced publicly.

Cheney also met with Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, Sunni and Shiite vice presidents, and other government and political leaders.

Aides said the vice president wanted to emphasize that ending the conflict in Iraq cannot done by military means alone and that his mission was to get a sense of the situation on the ground in Iraq and to deliver a message that more work is needed on the political front to overcome divisions and delays.

The visit follows a secure video conference earlier this week between al-Maliki and President Bush about the need to move forward on legislation to help repair the rift between majority-party Shiite Arabs and minority Sunni Arabs.

Sunni legislators have been threatening to pull out of the government.

Cheney also was likely to renew a U.S. request that the Iraqi parliament not take a scheduled two-month break during these troubling times, according to Crocker.

"For the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in the middle of summer is impossible to understand," said Crocker, who traveled with Cheney from Washington. He has only been on the job since March.

U.S. criticism of summer break plans of the 275-seat Iraqi house drew a retort Wednesday from the maverick speaker of Iraq's parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. "You had better try and control Nancy Pelosi rather than Mahmoud al-Mashhadani," he said in a live address on Iraq's state television, referring to the Democratic speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

His remarks were a clear barb at the Bush administration, though he did not mention any administration official by name.

Cheney's public schedule called for him to stop first at the United Arab Emirates, but he came first to Iraq instead. He was later to visit the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

It is his second visit to Iraq as vice president. The first was in December 2005.

Complete coverage is available in's Iraq Center.